mai & the rest of the gaang:
mai & aang: a bit awkward, at first? not on aang’s end of course, he’s totally unflustered and in fact quite keen to get to know zuko’s girlfriend and I actually think mai doesn’t know what to do with this attitude, given she spent six months or so trying to hunt him down, and that’s very present in her mind. hanging out with aang is a very pleasant culture shock in how he casually diaregards half the norms she was raised to strictly follow, speaking with warm enthusiasm and genuine curiosity to all, be they dish washers or tea servers or the Fire Lord’s girlfriend, disregarding barriers of social class that are so carefully upheld in the Fire Nation. It’s refreshing as it is bewildering. I think mai does develop a fondness for aang - although she can find him and his antics a bit much at times - and deeply respects and cares for him if only for how valued his friendship with zuko is. she claims to tolerate his goofy antics but she enjoys them far more than she lets on (his flying marble trick does elicit a rare smile, although it only appears for 0.02 seconds before returning to the most deadpan expression). I think mai respects him most politically actually - aang grows up to be an excellent diplomat, an excellent mediator who does not lose sight of the importance of various different perspectives, especially those who are forgotten or maligned, even when in circles of power.
mai & sokka: as discussed, they have a rocky start. sokka, my darling beloved sokka, has a tendency to be a bit abrasive, if we’re honest, in that his humour and his puns are a little in-your-face, he has a bit of an ego aboht being the funniest/smartest person in the room, and he can take it personally when people don’t like it. mai doesn’t have much time for that. mai doesn’t care much for sokka’s jokes if only because they’re attached to this ego, but also and finds the puns a bit flat (whereas she finds aang’s mischief making genuinely funny, though she tries to hide it), and sokka takes this deeply personally and tries really hard to elicit a laugh from her. this just ends up with him aggravating her more. I think mai has little time for sensitive male ego games and that’s partially why her and sokka clash- she won’t blunt herself for him, even if he is one of zuko’s closest friends. I think sokka, to his credit, doesn’t dismiss her as a ‘bitch’ and keeps trying - in fact, the reason he comes on so strong is because he actually really wants her to like her - and i think that’s because of boiling rock, and because of that alone sokka deeply respects mai on many levels (and was extremely surprised by how all that played out, and knows from that alone that mai is a layered and complex person who contains multitudes). I think what might cause mai to warm to him is politics - sokka’s a pragmatist, who is skeptical of idealism without material backing and is refreshingly realistic for one of aang’s friends. he keeps the fire nation on its toes at the negotiating table but he’s also the first to point out when a potential proposition - when anyone’s potential proposition - has more logical holes than a piece of honeycomb. i think mai appreciates that perspective. and i think they could slowly and gradually go from personality clashing to building this begrudging friendship where mai will never openly admit that she likes him, where sokka will still grate but in a way that becomes almost familiar and comfortable because of that, and where - especially in a situation where they have to work on a project together - they’re a formidable team. a difficult friendship but eventually could be a dear one.
mai & katara: another personality clash that becomes a really fascinating friendship. katara wasn’t there for boiling rock and is perhaps a bit cool towards mai even understanding what she did there, and the grounds where they most often meet is politics, and they largely are at odds there too. they’re interesting parallels, in terms of role - both partners of powerful world leaders, but while mai positions herself as a vital support and power behind zuko’s regime, furthering that goal, katara loathes to be associated with aang simply because of their romantic relationship, and does not envision their relationship to be a political one: aang and katara stand independent, but with shared values and goals (and perhaps katara simply does not understand why mai takes the position she does regarding politics and relationships). their actual political approach wildly differs, with katara being an impassioned idealist who is the most radical out of the gaang, whereas mai is a pragmatist - much more concerned about the feasibility of the radical ideas proposed and sees herself occupying the role of a much needed skeptic who asks 'okay, but how are we going to do this?’ in a group of radicals. this does lead to some fierce clashes actually - some of katara’s proposals appear outlandish to mai, and katara interprets this as fire nation indoctrination and ideological conditioning limiting her perspective (and honestly neither are completely wrong - mai can be on occasion perhaps too conservative and cynical and that is often because her upbringing has limited her scope, and katara sometimes isn’t fully aware of how feasible her ideas are and leaves practical concerns to others). I think despite this they have such a deep respect for each other - and that’s in part why their arguments are so impassioned, because they both fundamentally know the other comes from a good place. mai saved katara’s brother’s life at boiling rock, and katara saved mai’s partner during the final agni kai - they have both proven to each other the extent of their commitment and cared for another they care about deeply. they’re the biggest idealism vs. cynicism clash but honestly over time i think the respect only grows over time despite periods of hot and cold. I’d like to think if katara ever has relationship difficulties with aang, after her gran’s, it’s mai whose advice she might respect the most - after all, it’s mai who understands what it’s like to date someone who is a world leader, and mai absolutely believes in having firm, healthy boundaries and little tolerance for sufferring for men in relationships. I think given their positions they’re often in dialogue and in conversation and end up building the most unexpected but also rock solid friendship. they *would* take a bullet for each other, i am sure of it.
mai & toph: i love these two. an incredible friendship. mai takes to toph the quickest out of aang’s friends. it makes sense - toph comes from a similar class and upbringing as mai, albeit has taken a different life path and expresses herself completely differently, and i think while surprised and thrown at first by toph’s bluntness, mai sees that and not only respects but honestly just loves how toph is a little crass, and doesn’t hold decorum as the be all and end all. I think the age difference here actually makes a difference - mai very much sees toph as a younger peer (and eventually, much like zuko, a younger sibling), and while it can be sad to see someone from a younger generation express themselves freely in a way that mai feel she can’t, i think her joy at seeing that takes precedence here over any mixed feelings. mai pretends not to be amused at toph’s antics (but quietly delights at them) and absolutely is the person who will get the authorities that be in the fire nation to look away from whatever misdemeanours she’s committing at any given time (indeed, mai as often been a partner in crime - actually, speaking of, she’s been surprised before to see katara also partake with toph, and it was an ice-breaking moment for them, probably one engineered by toph). that said, mai absolutely does not patronise toph, gives it to her straight, will also tell toph when she’s going too far or pushing the limit, something toph deeply respects and values. mai can see toph’s wisdom and her strong intuitive understanding of how others feel, and admires that, as well as the kindness toph shows (i would not be surprised if mai looks at toph and wants to be a little more like her). I also think mai’s sardonic and biting sense of humour is best appreciated by toph out of aang’s friends (sokka also finds it very funny, but sokka is also trying hard to get mai to like him, as aforementioned). mai and toph vibe together *so hard* and *so well* (something i think zuko is quietly deeply grateful for, since mai hasn’t clicked as well with the rest of the gaang, but also because he views toph like a little sister too).
mai & suki: right! so this one is complicated. mai does not see suki as often as the rest of the gaang - she sees katara and aang often for political reasons, at summits and keets and so on, sokka keeps in touch often and is constantly sending letters, and toph will just turn up unannounced and will stay for several weeks to “relandscape” the fire nation gardens (so she claims) every year or so. I am sticking to show canon here but reject the comics canon - there is no way in hell suki ends up as a bodyguard for zuko, the kyoshi warriors have better things to be doing. so! while mai absolutely saved the teal at boiling rock and suki knows this, the fact that they see each other relatively little mean things are a bit… cool between them? Not quite cold, but there’s a degree of awkwardness that mai works past with the others that takes longer with suki. I honestly don’t know if suki knows how she should feel about mai? like ty lee not only helped at boiling rock but then went on to work with the warriors and suki very much sees someone who wants to prove herself and right those wrongs in ty lee
(as well as someone who is running away but. that’s another post). mai completed step 1 and 2 with boiling rock, but hasn’t… done anything after that. and on paper they’re cool and she knows it but… idk if she knows how to feel? it’s a bit weird. a bit awkward and weird. it’s possible suki holds more of a grudge than she’s willing to admit (she’s been most directly wronged by mai and ty lee after all) and the fact that mai has returned to the fire nation, and been, according to katara, disappointingly conservative at times, makes her question what boiling rock meant. suki is cordial and professional around mai but doesn’t really know her that well and doesn’t trust her as much as the others. mai doesn’t particularly care either way and will take or leave friendship with suki (though mai, to be clear, does respect suki immensely as a warrior). the key factor here is ty lee, honestly. i think the two of them could have an excellent relationship if so inclined but it would apmost definitely be due to ty lee trying to prod them into getting along and hanging out and getting to know each other - because i think they’re both practical minded, no-nonsense girls who are exceptionally skilled in martial arts and if nothing else they could bond theough sparring sessions, but i think they’d also just get along splendidly if they had the chance. suki just doesn’t quite trust mai and mai making those personal amends isn’t a priority when she’s trying to stop zuko running the fire nation into the ground.